files and folders
what's it all about then?
culled from "communications with clients", a big bag of text I keep finding stuff in.

the beginning..

When you buy a new hard drive from the shop, it is completely empty, clean. But in no time at all, it fills up with "things". These "things", are files and folders.

A folder on your computer is in almost every respect exactly like a folder in a real-life filing cabinet, with two fundamental differences..

The first, is that they are infinitely large, which alas, the folders in filing cabinets are not.

The second important difference is that one can put folders inside other folders. And they can have more folders inside them, and so on and so on and so forth, ad infinitum, or at least until your hard drive fills up, which when you have broadband, is "sheesh! already!".

The other "things" on your hard drive are files. These are the individual documents, the images, letters and CVs, the diaries and address books, spreadsheets and databases of the world. These equate to the sheets of paper and plastic-cased media storage units they were so fond of in the last century.

The third type of "things" on your hard drive are "applications". These are the tools we use to create files; text editors, like BBEdit and TextPad; image manipulation tools like Photoshop; word processors like well, Microsoft Word, and so on. Just to add a little spice to the confusion, applications, whilst usually being files, "excecutable files", can also be folders full of files, which are known as packages, but to all intents and purposes, we think of them as files, because they act that way. You generally can't store files inside them like you can with a regular folder.

Just like in the old days, files go inside folders, not the other way around. A folder can't go inside a file in the same way that a ring binder can't go inside a sheet of paper.

thank apple!

We have to thank Apple (and Xerox, too, really) for bringing the concept of folders to our computer desktops. Prior to that, folders were known as "directories", or "dirs", and a folder inside a folder was known as a "subdirectory", the whole thing visualised as a "directory tree", and viewed as a long, and difficult to remember let alone type, string of text. This can either be very confusing or very useful, depending on how you look at it.

The top-most folder is known as the "root", so the secret lies in visualising the tree upside-down.

When you first install the computer's operating system (Mac OS X, Linux, OS/2, Mac OSX, BSD, Mac OS X, Windows, whatever..) the installer will create literally hundreds of directories (we use the two terms interchangeably now) and probably thousands of files on your hard drive. Fortunately the system installer will build this whole mess inside one big folder and call it "bin", or "Windows" or "System" or something like that, and generally we never have to worry about that particular area ever of our hard drive again. Leave that to the tech dude!

What concerns us, is our directory tree (folder of folders). On a windows system, Microsoft has thoughtfully included a folder in the root directory called "My Documents".

This is a great idea, though Microsoft's implementation does leave a lot to be desired. The theory behind it is that if you put all you stuff in there, it will be easier to back up, and this is quite true. Sadly Windows, by default, doesn't put any of real stuff in there, instead just sends you there when you go to save a file. *grrr* (a wee system hack fixes that!)

On a real computer (i.e., running a *nix based OS) each user has their own user folder, called a "home" folder, and inside that is your documents folder, but also, critically, your system settings and preferences, amongst other things. You can literally pick a home folder out of one *nix operating system, drop it into another, and pretty much pick up where you left off

keep $#it organised..

How you arrange your document folders is up to you. I find (and I'm not alone) that the best way to structure a document folder is to create lots of folders with a few things in them as opposed to a few folders with lots of things in them. When I say things, of course I mean files and folders..


The top level might look like this..
 archive
 business
 work

    inside the "work" folder we might find..
     audio
     back-ups
     imaging
     local projects
     videos
     words

        inside the words folder perhaps..
         ~words in
         articles
         ideas
         notes
         poems
         research
         stories

by keeping the structure organised like this we can maximise the efficiency of our file operations, or in other words, spend less time looking for stuff. If I write a story it gets saved in the "stories" folder, which has a logical position inside "words", which is logically inside "work" and the first place I'd look for a story, especially in the future, long after I've saved this particular file. if you presume "I'll remember I put that there", you won't. "I'll move that later", is another ploy of the computing fool. As Brian Tracey (Top Time Manager) says.. handle every piece of paper only once. This also applies to digital paper.

make folders anyway!

Modern operating system, by allowing us to simply click on folders to open them, make possible a whole new level of organisation, you can get real deep, real quick. Mac OS X column-view (apple-3) takes this to the extreme, and in open and save dialogs the time-savings can be enormous. You see, back in the old days of computing, deep meant long, putting that story in it's proper location, would have meant typing..

/home/documents/work/words/stories/my story.txt

or whatever, which is why many people didn't bother, and things got quickly out of hand, and where in the hell is that report I was working on yesterday? etc.

The Graphical User Interfaces (gui) of today allow us to browse our folder structures with ease, performing all the moving and copying operations that were so damned difficult for the average user only a few years ago. Now they have no excuses!

Aye, shell-hackers, unix-geeks and savvy server admins will quickly tell you how swiftly we can move around a file system without a gui, but even amazing file system tools like mc are pure vodoo to the average user.

All mac save dialogs have a "new folder" button on them. Click this, type in a name, and your new folder appears magically inside the folder you are browsing. click it and you're inside. get into the habit of doing this!

As a rule of the thumb, if I have more than three items in a folder, I create another sub-folder (a folder inside that folder) unless there's a damn good reason not to. Often there is; for instance, a series of ten, or even one hundred images would obviously all want to stay together.

You can make folders anywhere you have permission to make folders. use the file menu or right-click anywhere you would like a folder to be. you can't miss the new folder option. (shortcut: apple-shift-m)

a final word about desktops..

All these folders that we are making should NOT be kept on the desktop. That flies in the face of the whole desktop philosophy. Documents is for documents. The desktop is for aliases, or shortcuts if you prefer, though strictly-speaking, a shortcut, on a mac, is a keyboard-combo. I won't go into unix symbolic links here.

An alias is simply a link that points to a file or folder somewhere else. A well organised system has HEAPS of aliases. You can make them anywhere, for instance, you might want a shortcut to your work folder right there on your desktop, for easy access, perhaps just for the duration of a particular project.

To create a shortcut, drag-and-drop some folder to your desktop while holding down apple-alt (command-option). then let go, TADA! They have a wee arrow in the bottom-left corner of their icon to let you know they are only an alias, not a real item. This was an annoying "feature" when it first appeared, and still is.

Without aliases, to get to your "work" folder, you'd have to open "Home", then open "Documents" and finally "work". And what if the project you are working on right now is much deeper inside work? You can see why aliases are such a good idea. often my desktop is littered with aliases whilst I'm working on a project, temporary shortcuts, time-savers, delete when done.

You can put aliases anywhere; into toolbars, inside other folders (think about it) and even into certain kinds of files, though that's a special case.

Generally speaking, nothing on your desktop should be real; just aliases pointing to other important items in your highly-organised virtual filing system, or indeed anywhere, network volumes, or folders within them, web servers, ftp folders, whatever. You can make aliases of files (keep your current project documents right on your desktop), and most importantly, you can make aliases of applications, and then just drag files straight onto them. handy.

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